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Leslie

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Text by James Bow

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Leslie station is the third station east of Sheppard-Yonge on the SHEPPARD subway line. It serves the intersection of Sheppard Avenue and Leslie Street, although primarily commercial and residential developments west of Leslie, as the line crosses a branch of the Don River immediately east of the station. Nearby attractions include a large Ikea store (served by a private shuttle bus) and the North York General Hospital. It is the only non-terminal station on the SHEPPARD subway to feature a bus terminal within the station’s fare paid zone, but it remains the second-least used station on the line, serving just 6,460 passengers on an average weekday (2014 numbers), compared to 2,380 for neighbouring Bessarion and 32,900 for Don Mills.

Early History

The area around the intersection of Leslie and Sheppard was primarily rural until the middle part of the 20th century, its topology complicated by the east branch of the Don River. The concession roads of Sheppard Avenue and Leslie Street did not initially meet at a clean intersection, and a realignment of Leslie Street to the east (done in 1968) created a short stub of Leslie called Old Leslie Street that remains to this day. In the 1950s and the early 60s, the area was the site of a small hamlet, featuring a church and a gas station.

Public transit would not come to the area until March 18, 1963, with the launch of the 84 SHEPPARD, running from Wilson Heights to Ambrose Road (just west of Leslie) weekdays during rush hours and midday. The TTC had planned to operate this service east of Leslie but a loop at Shaughnessy was late in opening. Once construction had finished, the service crossed Leslie on June 10, 1963. In the coming years, the SHEPPARD bus was extended east, and service periods increased.

Service on Leslie took even longer. Although the 51 LESLIE route was set up on February 26, 1966, it only operated to York Mills Road. In June 3, 1968, the TTC took advantage of a realigned Leslie and extended service to the door of the North York General Hospital, established south and east of the Sheppard/Leslie intersection. On January 6, 1969, the route was extended north to near McNicoll. It too gradually added service periods as development in the area increase.

As Metropolitan Toronto grew and developed into the 1970s and 80s, North York council and its mayor Mel Lastman pushed for improved transit service, including a subway beneath Sheppard Avenue to compete with Highway 401 south of Sheppard Avenue, and to anchor development around a proposed downtown around the Sheppard/Yonge intersection. In the early 1980s, plans were drawn up for a SHEPPARD subway eventually extending from Allen Road in the west to the Scarborough Town Centre in the east, with stops every 1-2 kilometres. Leslie, as a major intersection, was selected as a stop.

Although the line was supported by Metro Council in 1985, delays from the provincial government meant that funding was not committed until 1994, and only for a shortened phase one section, between Yonge Street and Don Mills, with intermediate stops at Bayview, Bessarion and Leslie. Construction finally began in 1995, and the line opened to the public on November 24, 2002.

Station Features

Leslie station is located on the south side of Sheppard Avenue, extending west from Leslie Street. A mezzanine level at the west end of the platform connects the platform with the main entrance off of Sheppard Avenue East, and a secondary entrance one level up, serving Old Leslie Street and the station’s bus terminal. At the east end of the platform, a passageway leads east towards an automatic entrance located at the southeast corner of the Sheppard/Leslie intersection. The topology of the area, a valley surrounding the east branch of the Don River, brings the SHEPPARD subway closer to the surface. The mezzanine level is on the same level of the street, while the exit onto Old Leslie further west is also level with its street.

As with other stations on the SHEPPARD subway, Leslie’s station box was built to accept six-car trains, but a portion of it was blocked off when the decision was made to only operate four-car trains until such time as passenger levels demanded it. On Leslie, this was accomplished by setting up knock-out walls on the eastern third of the platform, lengthening the passageway to the eastern automatic entrance.

In addition to this work, the TTC had to contend with an engineering challenge crossing the east branch of the Don River. Instead of tunnelling under the river, the TTC built a bridge over top. Without much clearance between the river and the street, the 60 metre-long $15 million bridge was built very low over the river bed, and so was completely enclosed in a watertight concrete box designed to withstand water levels high enough to submerge the bridge. The top of the bridge is open to the public, with part of the roof covered with soil and planted. A sinuous footpath runs along the bridge.

Leslie station carried on the same minimalist construction of the rest of the Sheppard network. The outer walls were kept to bare concrete, and the station buildings are a simple concrete and glass structures. Artist Micah Lexier was responsible for Leslie station’s artwork and major defining characteristic. Although the budget of the SHEPPARD subway had been heavily cut in response to the ornate design of Downsview station, the TTC tried to enliven these stations by commissioning artwork that used materials that were going to have to be purchased anyway, particularly ceramic tiles.

For Leslie station, Lexier reached out to the local community and gathered over 3,400 handwriting samples, with each person writing “Sheppard” and “Leslie” within a square, around a printed ampersand. These squares of handwriting were silkscreened onto 17,000 ceramic tiles which were mounted to the walls of Leslie station, particularly around the station platform. This art piece was called “Ampersand”. Artist Lexier explains, “Ampersand takes its title from the ‘and’ symbol which links the two handwritten words and is a consistent element on all tiles. The location of the subway station is reinforced by naming its street intersection. The imagery was made by a wide spectrum of contributors and leaves for posterity their individual, yet anonymous, marks. Personalities are expressed through handwriting and one can’t help but speculate as to the writer’s gender, age or even occupation… …This artwork acknowledges the duality of being both an individual and part of a larger community. Like a crowd, the artwork is one very large body made up of thousands of unique elements.”

Overbuilt?

The size and scope of Leslie station has attracted criticism and controversy, particularly since it carries only around 6,000 passengers on an average weekday. A lot was promised for Leslie station that did not materialize, leading one to question whether it should have been built so large, or given the facilities it was given.

The bus terminal at Leslie station is far bigger than the station’s needs needs. It serves the modestly 51 LESLIE route that diverts in both directions on its way to Steeles or Eglinton station. There is a spot for Wheel Trans buses to alight. Proposals to realign certain routes to Leslie have been made but not acted upon. For instance, the TTC briefly considered rerouting 115 SILVER HILLS so that it connected with Leslie station rather than its longer run along York Mills to York Mills station; however, it concluded that this change would make the route less useful to local travellers, as its alignment along York Mills connected passengers to area schools en route. Similarly, a proposal to extend the 10 VAN HORNE route west along Van Horne and south on Leslie was not acted upon, possibly as it was felt that losing its direct connections with bus routes serving Don Mills station would be too much of an inconvenience for the passengers already taking the route.

Leslie station is also located close to Oriole GO station on the Richmond Hill GO Train line, and as the station was being built, proposals were made to move the GO station north a few hundred metres to provide an easy connection between the two. Oriole GO station never moved, and while a pathway has been marked to connect passengers between the two facilities, it is still a lengthy walk. Worse, the shortest connection takes passengers to the automatic entrance where, if the passenger doesn’t have an adult fare or a Presto card, they can’t access, forcing them to walk east on Sheppard another block to the main entrance. The Don Valley lands also limit the amount of development that can take place around the intersection, further limiting passenger growth.

Leslie station does not get the press of neighbouring Bessarion station, the least-used station on Toronto’s subway network, but it too stands as a memorial of overly optimistic passenger projections for the SHEPPARD subway and missed opportunities in its construction. However, potential still exists for the station to improve, either through enhanced connections with the neighbouring GO Train route, or further connections with the local community, or increased development at the station and west.

Trivia

  • On December 22, 2016, this station, along with Coxwell, was the last to receive PRESTO card readers, making the whole of the Toronto subway network accessible to PRESTO card users.

Service Notes (as of May 7, 2017):

  • Off-Site Resources:
  • Line: 4 Sheppard
  • Hours of Operation:
    First Train to Don Mills: 5:32 a.m. weekdays, 5:49 a.m. Saturdays/holidays, 8:00 a.m. Sundays.
    First Train to Sheppard-Yonge: 5:33 a.m. weekdays, 5:50 a.m. Saturdays/holidays, 8:07 a.m. Sundays.
    Last Train to Don Mills: 2:20 a.m.
    Last Train to Sheppard-Yonge: 2:27 a.m.
  • Address: 1209 Sheppard Avenue East
  • Opened: November 22, 2002
  • Wheelchair Accessible Since: November 22, 2002 (upon opening)
  • Average Weekday Ridership: 6,460 (2014),
  • Entrances:
    • Main Entrance (Accessible), located on the south side of Sheppard Avenue East, 194 metres west of Leslie Street. Elevators and escalators to subway platform and bus level.
    • Leslie Street Automatic Entrance (Accessible), located on the west side of Leslie Street, 9 metres south of Sheppard Avenue East (door faces north), and 46 metres south of Sheppard Avenue East (door faces south). Elevators and stairs directly to the subway platform.
    • Old Leslie Street Automatic Entrance and Bus Terminal (Accessible), located on the west side of Old Leslie Street, 154 metres north of Esther Shiner Boulevard. Direct access to bus platform level, with stairs and elevators to mezzanine level and subway platform.
  • Escalators (click here for maintenance schedule):
    • Bus Terminal To Concourse (Up At All Times)
    • Bus Terminal To Concourse (Down At All Times)
    • Concourse To Platform (Up At All Times)
    • Concourse To Platform (Down At All Times)
  • Elevators (click here for maintenance schedule):
    • East Entrance to Platform
    • Bus Terminal Main Concourse to Platform
  • Parking: 2760 Old Leslie Street (102 spaces)
  • Centre platform
  • Presto Gates Installed

TTC Surface Connections:


Leslie Station Image Archive


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